There’s no denying that, when it comes to mental health, New Zealand has a major problem. It seems unthinkable that in a country that ranks top ten in the United Nations’ 2017 World Happiness Report, we are struggling so much with depression and other psychological illnesses.
Yet, data from the Mental Health Foundation tells us that over half a million New Zealand adults have been diagnosed with depression at some time in their lives, and another 200,000 with anxiety disorders. Figures from the Chief Coroner show that in the 2016/2017 year, 606 Kiwis took their own lives. Men were disproportionately represented, making up 75% of that figure, and the largest age group was 20 to 24-year-olds.
Why do Kiwis, especially men, have such an alarmingly high rate of mental illness and suicide?
It might be down to our “she’ll be right” attitude, and the perception that talking about our feelings is a sign of weakness. It might be because men think they should be staunch, and ‘harden up’ rather than admit they aren’t coping. Women tend to be more open to sharing their problems with others, which might explain that, while they have a higher rate of depression than men, they only represent 25% of suicides.
What is the government doing to help?
The recently-elected Labour government has pledged to review New Zealand’s mental health services within their first 100 days to identify where there are gaps. Their mental health policy also includes increasing resources for frontline mental health workers and extending School-Based Health Services to all public secondary schools to create a comprehensive youth healthcare service.
So, what causes depression and anxiety?
There are no hard and fast rules, but there are some common triggers:
- Traumatic experiences in your past, like domestic abuse
- A family history of depression or anxiety
- Distressing events like the death of a parent, partner or friend, job loss, serious illness, or the break-up of a relationship
- Ongoing challenges like stress, illness, disability, money issues, workplace bullying, and addictions
- Shocking events like natural disasters or being the victim of a crime
- Some medications, like those for blood pressure or migraines
- Vitamin deficiencies or endocrine disorders
How do you know if you’re depressed?
Depression and anxiety can present themselves in many different ways.
- Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, irritability or low self-esteem
- Loss of interest in things you normally enjoy
- Feeling numb or empty
- Mood swings
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering things
- Pounding heartbeat
- Stomach upsets
- Changes in appetite and sleep patterns
- Panic attacks
If you think you might be suffering from depression or anxiety, try these self-tests which will help you decide the next step to take.